Archive for October, 2019

"Protester dressed as Boris Johnson scales Big Ben"

Sometimes it's hard for us humans to see the intended meaning of an ambiguous phrase, like "Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five". But in other cases, the intended structure comes easily to us, and we have a hard time seeing the alternative, as in the case of "Extinction rebellion protester dressed as Boris Johnson scales Big Ben".

These two examples have essentially the same structure. There's a word that might be construed as a preposition linking a verb to a nominal argument ("named after sandwiches", "dressed as Boris Johnson"), or alternatively as a complementizer introducing a subordinate clause ("after sandwiches kill five", "as Boris Johnson scales Big Ben"). In the first example, the complementizer reading is the one the author intended, while in the second example, it's the preposition. But in both cases, most of us go for the preposition, presumably because "named after X" and "dressed as Y" are common constructions.

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"Talking to someone"

From Julia Preseau:

I am feeling old today, having just realized that "talking to" is a widely used way to describe beginning stage of "dating relationships."

I noted it in two of these interactions on a little video experiment regarding "girls trying to pick up girls".

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Wow Food

Carl Johnson sent in this nice bilingual pun:

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Greeks in ancient Central Asia: the Ionians

In the comments to "A Sino-Mongolian tale in three languages and five scripts" (10/10/19), Michael Watts remarked:

I was just reading about the conflict between the Han and Da Yuan. Yuan 宛 is supposed to reflect the Greek self-appellation (presumably Ἰάονες or similar), or a Sanskrit rendition thereof. This made me curious what the reconstructed ancient pronunciation of 宛 was.

To which Chris Button replied:

宛 would go back to Old Chinese *ʔwàn and so its identification with Sanskrit "Yavana" or Pali "Yona" for Ionian is well founded.

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"Revlon" in Chinese

We've been through a lot of atrocious Chinglish (check the archives under "Lost in translation"), so we should acknowledge, and even revel in, translational equivalents that are outstandingly good.

It suddenly occurs to me that the Chinese translation of the American cosmetic brand Revlon is so beautiful that it deserves to be highlighted here:

lù huá nóng 露華濃 ("dew [that is] splendid [and] dense")

On the one hand, "Luhuanong" serves as a sound transcription of "Revlon".  On the other hand, the translation of these three syllables provides an apt meaning for the brand name.

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Durian pizza

Last month we had "Explosion Cheese Durian Pie" (9/23/19).  Now we have durian pizza, courtesy of Jeffrey L. Schwartz, who posted this photo of an advertisement for Mi Tea on Bell Blvd. in Bayside, Queens…  Wash your durian pizza down with some salted cheese tea!

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"Third (rate|grade)" corpus linguistics

Did Donald Trump call Nancy Pelosi a "third rate politician" or a "third grade politician"? This question has come up in the mass media recently, and we discussed some phonetic aspects of the question earlier today.

Based on a quick corpus study, I conclude that the probabilities strongly favor "third rate".

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Third-g?ra(d|t)e phonetics

Recent political events have offered a lesson in the phonetic interpretation of American English, among other subjects. See "Trump disparages Pelosi at their first meeting since impeachment inquiry began, Democrats say", Washington Post 10/16/2019:

“He couldn’t handle it,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol, referring to a House vote earlier Wednesday condemning Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. “He just couldn’t handle it. . . . So, he just kind of engaged in a meltdown.”

Pelosi added that she is praying for Trump’s health. Pressed for more, she responded: “I’m not talking about mentally. I’m talking about handling the truth.”

In remarks outside the White House, Schumer had told reporters that Trump had called Pelosi a “third-rate politician.” Pelosi later clarified at the Capitol that Trump had called her a “third-grade politician.”

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The tweet that upended the NBA and jammed James (LeBron)

American sports fans are now familiar with the "Stand with Hong Kong" logo because it appeared in the controversial tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey:

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A disyllabic autantonymous stative verb

Lucas Klein and Nick Williams asked me about this interesting word:  落魄.

It can mean either “free-spirited” or “downtrodden”, which appear to directly contradict each other, and it has at least three variant pronunciations (luòpò, luòbó, luòtuò).  Source

Negative meanings:  "down and out; in dire straits; abject".

Positive meanings:  "unrestrained; unconventional; untrammeled by convention; casual".

Seems to be a literary term.


Goes all the way back to Shǐjì 史記 (Records of the [Grand] Scribe / Historian; completed ca. 94 BC), scroll 97, "Lì Shēng zhuàn 酈生傳" ("Biography of Li Sheng").

Can also be written 落拓 (cf. 落魄 above and note that both the semantophores and the phonophores of the second characters of the two variants are starkly different).

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"Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five"

Sherlocution Holmes is an entertaining UK-based Twitter presence with a bio that reads, "Consultant detective tracking down the best (and worst!) linguistics and language examples." Many of the tweets are humorous illustrations of structural or semantic ambiguity, including many examples of "crash blossoms" — those double-take headlines that are ambiguous enough to be laughably misinterpreted. Here's one popular recent tweet.

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Xi Jinping's denunciation of splittists

During his recent trip to Nepal, Xi Jinping blasted those who aimed to split up China by saying they would have their "bodies pulverized and bones crushed" (fěnshēnsuìgǔ 粉身碎骨).  A lot of people were shocked by the harshness of the language and also wondered why he would take advantage of the first trip to Nepal by a Chinese president in more than two decades to denounce splittists back home.

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A new variant of a common Chinese character

Invented by a fledgling American calligrapher:

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